Author Archives: Gene Weingarten, Columnist, Washington Post

Hep, hep, hooray!

Editor’s Note: As we come to the conclusion of Hepatitis Awareness Month, we are pleased to share with our readers a column written by Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post. Gene Weingarten is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and writes “Below the Beltway,” a weekly humor column that is nationally syndicated. The column initially appeared online on May 21, 2015.

As far as helping to erase the unfortunate stigma of the disease, I fear my personal story may not be of much value. While it is true that many hep C victims become infected through blood transfusions or organ transplants, or in other innocent ways, mine was contracted during my college years, when I showed as much care for my personal health as your average suicide bomber. I got hep C because of my appetite for altered states of consciousness, which is a highly dignified way of saying that I enjoyed sticking needles in my arm to facilitate nodding and drooling.

HepatitisAwarenessMonthBecause of modern medicine I no longer have hep C, but in a sense, I am still “living with it.” That is because most every time I get blood drawn for any reason, the results arrive with a gigantic warning that I have hepatitis C. (As it happens, once you have the disease, the telltale antibodies in your blood hang around forever, like your wife’s doofus brother Duane.) For the instant until you remember this fact, the medical news is terrifying, but even afterward you are dispirited. It’s like having one of those suggestive small-of-the-back tattoos, the occasional glimpse of which reminds you that you were once a stupid dirtball.

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I know that hep C is a particularly insidious scourge, since many people who have it are asymptomatic for a long time, meaning they don’t know they have it, meaning the disease often progresses without treatment for far too long. If you were ever at risk, get tested! I can testify to the wisdom of this because of how I was diagnosed.

I discovered that I had it, and that I’d had it for two decades, only by accident, after going to the doctor following a startling grease-related bodily event that caused me to have to leave work and buy a new pair of pants. (I am telling this here because of my deep commitment to disseminating important medical truths during Hepatitis Awareness Month, and because, as a humor columnist, I have no remaining sense of shame.) My grease problem turned out to have been benign, the result of a single binge episode of eating peanut butter from a tablespoon. This would have been deeply reassuring, except the doctor then told me that something else had shown up in the blood work. “Something else showed up in the blood work” is one of those things that is not good to hear, like a concerto for flugelhorn, vuvuzela and cowbell.

But in the end, my experience with hepatitis C is that I got over it, which I hope will be an inspiration for readers of this blog. It is true that my cure came only after injections into my thighs three times a week for nine years, but this should not be discouraging.

First, the treatment is easier now. Second, the life-or-death uncertainty with which I was living provided philosophically beneficial. For nine years I embraced life as never before, becoming more responsible, more appreciative, a more sober and serious person.

Then I got cured and forgot about all that crap. Win-win!